Posts related to my pursuit of a PhD.

Expat marks the spot? Sheikh-Mohammed-3-FingersThree years ago today — September 8, 2014 — I first set foot in Dubai and took the first of many steps that have led me to my new life as an expat.

Although emotionally anchored to my two amazing sons in Los Angeles, Jacob and Max, Dubai has revealed to me new friendships and opportunities I could have never realized in the United States. On a more personal level, my time in Dubai has opened my heart to new love, which has in turn filled me with hope and faith, two things with which I have long struggled.

I am thankful for Jumeira University, which first opened the door to this incredible experience, AUE for providing me with the next step, and for everyone who played a part in my process of self discovery and development. I am also filled with pride for my sons’ accomplishments and appreciation their increasing ability to understand why it was necessary for me to go overseas; despite being far from them physically, they are always close to my heart.

Most notably I am grateful to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of Dubai, for making Dubai a place where even the wildest dreams can come true.

What are your top five strengths?


I previously blogged about how insightful my personal mastery course in the organizational leadership EdD program  at Pepperdine was to me. The most paradigm shifting experience class was reading “Now, Discover Your Strengths” and taking the related online test to understand my top five strengths. When I first read the book in 2006 I received free access to the online “StrengthsFinder” test and learned the first five of my 34 possible strengths:

  1. Learner
  2. Strategic
  3. Input
  4. Intellection
  5. Relator

Today, with “Cinco de Mayo” upon us, it seemed appropriate to reveal what you could call my “Cinco de Mio!” In this spirit, a summary of the meaning, interpretation, and application of my top five strengths follows:

1. Learner

Meaning: I have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, is what excites me.

Interpretation: I’ve always found satisfaction, purpose and identity as a “learner.” When I was younger I mistakenly measured my self-worth on my grades alone. As I matured I finally understood “the outcome of the learning is less significant than the ‘getting there,’ (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 107).

I have worked to develop a healthier balance between academics and adventure. Likewise, when I was younger I was engaged in book learning exclusively, but have since identified an equal interest in “experiential education.” I don’t think I will ever satiate my desire to overcome a new educational obstacle.

Lately most of my learning has resulted from my journey as a parent of two children who each have special needs.

Application: My biggest challenge as a learner has been extracting myself from an educational environment and integrating into a professional setting — while still finding satisfaction and purpose. While I am a very good student, I often feel lost once I am no longer exclusively in that role.

At positions in the past I frequently fond myself wanting to ask “why” when given an assignment while my superiors wanted me to answer “when can you get this done?” I feel a need to understand the underlying reasons for a project so I can break it down into logical, more easily understood components.

I desire an occupation that feels more like an avocation — something for which which I can tackle an intellectual challenge, transform information into knowledge and apply it strategically to render a tangible, beneficial result.

2. Strategic

Meaning: I like to create alternative ways to proceed with a given task. Faced with any given scenario, I can quickly spot patterns and issues around which I can devise a specialized plan of attack.

Interpretation: I have often defined myself as “a strategic thinker and creative tinkerer,” so it seems my initial perceptions about being “strategic” are correct.

Beyond being a natural talent, I attribute this strength to a background in student journalism and years of being taught to deconstruct information. Even after venturing into the world of consulting I find myself relying on the perfunctory “5 Ws” of journalism: who, what, when where, why.

This strength has become particularly relevant as I’ve endeavored further into higher education. I’ve always had an aptitude to “sort through the clutter and find the best route,” (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 115), which is the foundation of my ability to learn and to communicate my discoveries in a clear and compelling manner.

Application: While most of my professional past has involved creative areas, I’ve always had focused and practical mindset. My challenge is to find a professional situation that will reward me for this strength while engaging my others.

The most feasible route is a career as a college professor (either in a full-time or adjunct capacity) while also remaining engaged with the “real world” from which the curriculum I teach is extracted.

When I initially proposed this idea, I had not yet begun teaching at the college level: I started my first online class with Axia College of University of Phoenix on June 18, 2007 and my first onsite experience began with DeVry University on October 30, 2007. However, once I understood my natural strengths I began working towards making the dream a reality.

3. Input

Meaning: I naturally crave more information, I need to know more. I like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

Interpretation: Even as I wrote this paper I couldn’t resist the urge to check various websites for the latest events around the world. As Buckingham and Clifton (2001) explain, I “collect information – words, facts, books, and quotations,” (p. 105).

Beyond collecting information I have a need to “connect the dots” between each individual piece and clarify the meaning of each to hopefully reveal a larger truth.

Considering the mind of someone with a strength in ideation, “is always looking for connections [and is] intrigued when seemingly disparate phenomena can be linked by an obscure connection,” (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 102), my need for input shares some characteristics with ideation.

Application: Information overload and analysis paralysis are weaknesses that can impugn the effectiveness of “input” and are issues with which I have dealt. The main obstacle with “input” as a strength is that it can be a solitary, passive endeavor.

On the positive side, the big picture of my strengths reveals someone who is introspective, analytical, and clear minded, but who also enjoys close relationships. As a leader, I can share this strength with the people I lead to facilitate their specific needs. There is also an implication that someone with an “input” strength is also a good listener.

On a related note, Max DePree writes  in Leadership is an Art (1989), “The leader listens to the ideas, needs, aspirations, and wishes of the followers and then…responds…in an appropriate fashion,” (p. xxi).

When powerless people feel those in power have a genuine interest in them those people feel hopeful. When the reverse is true, people are consumed with resentment and disdain for their leaders.

4. Intellection

Meaning: I enjoy a high degree of intellectual activity. I am introspective and enjoy engaging in intellectual discussions.

Interpretation: I am an intellectual who enjoys “exercising the ‘muscles’ of [my] brain,” (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 106). However, I also have a strength in “intellection” which “may very well lack focus,” (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001, p. 106) but I do have a strong “strategic ability.

I suppose this is an example of nature finding a balance: while I enjoy intellectual flights of fancy, I am also grounded by a need to remain clear and have my research serve a practical purpose.

I think one of my most unique strengths is being an academic who can also take action, combining the theoretical with the practical.

Application: Having “intellection” as a theme enables me to provide well researched and well organized information about the competitive landscape and well reasoned thoughts about options. I generally consider all available options and only take action when the best one reveals itself, but also I sometimes make decisions based on instinct alone.

Realistically, in an average day, I must make hundreds of decisions and not all are worthy of intellectual investigation. I have been accused of “over thinking” decisions and taking too much time to choose a course of action. Maybe therein lays the difference between a manager and a leader?

Whereas a manager must make immediate decisions based on the information available at that moment (in conjunction with the knowledge gleamed from past experience), a leader can afford to be more systematic and pensive. I am unresolved on this, but know that if “intellection” is a strength, it is anchored in a natural talent and therefore worth embracing.

5. Relator

Meaning: I prefer to establish close relationships with others and I find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a common goal.

Interpretation:I find it interesting how, “the Relator theme pulls you toward people you already know. You do not necessarily shy away from meeting new people….but you derive a great deal of pleasure and strength….from your close friends,” (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001, p. 110).

This theme reflects my focus on honesty and my preference for a smaller circle of friends. I am not superficial and don’t want my relationships to be. Although I don’t have many close friends I do have several hundred acquaintances.

Confiding in a close cadre of colleagues is a powerful way of living; one that reflects the actions of many noted leaders who only had close friendships with a few very special people despite their being followed by thousands.

Application: The most powerful component of this theme is that “you are comfortable with intimacy…for you a relationship has value only if it is genuine,” (Buckingham and Clifton, 2001, p. 110).

I remember wondering in high school why I didn’t have more friends – not because I wanted more friends but because I thought I should have more. On one level my wanting to develop fewer, but closer relationships demonstrate a self-confidence I didn’t realize I had and a deep personal conviction that my friends are meaningful people to me.

I value people and seek to validate them by acknowledging their individual strengths. The secret is to pick the right people with whom to entrust my friendship, but more importantly to not totally shut out anyone new who might prove to be a valued ally.

So now that you know my greatest strengths, what are yours?


Have you met TED?

Founded in 1984 TED is an annual conference of ideas intended to unite leading thinkers and doers from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design. During each conference speakers share their thoughts in 18 minutes sessions. For those not part of the limited in-person audience, TED has made videos of more than 1,900 talks available online.

The collection of presentations is nothing short of infectious. And I mean that literally: at the February 2009 conference in Long Beach, CA Bill Gates released a jar of mosquitoes, emphasizing that people in developed countries are not concerned enough with the impact of malaria in the developing world.

Another talk of particular interest to me as an educator and lifelong learner was given by Sir Ken Robinson at the February 2006 conference in Monterey, CA. Robinson — who earned a PhD for research into drama and theatre in education — is a British creativity expert who challenges the way we educate ourselves.


Recognizing that formal education is unequally focused on linear, quantitative subjects, Robinson proposes a radical re-imagining of our school system that more effectively cultivates creativity and acknowledges multiple types of intelligence.

I can relate to this as I’ve always been one to “think different” (as the famous Apple advertising slogan once encouraged us to do). Specifically, I test poorly on standardized tests: my brain just isn’t wired that way. I need to find an effective and, given my present circumstance, outrageously affordable way to elevate my GRE scores to ensure my application is viewed competitively by admissions committees. (Perhaps at a later date I will discuss my thoughts on the highly questionable financial stranglehold ETS — Educational Testing Service — has on the high education process).

I personally enjoyed the video a great deal — it reminded me of my teaching philosophy which is anchored in the idea of generative learning. The “tipping point” that motivated me to post this blog was that shortly after watching it I logged into my account and read that the system now supports embedding TED videos.  Serendipity!

I couldn’t resist the urge to share this video. Although the talk occurred more than three years ago the ideas seem timeless and more relevant than ever. My two favorite lines from Robinson’s talk are:

“We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it.”

“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Truer words were never spoken!  Additionally, I also found these comments particularly insightful — especially since they reflect my views on education and seem to validate my desire for an interdisciplinary doctoral program:

“We know three things about intelligence:

  1. One, it’s diverse, we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.
  2. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things…
  3. And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct.”

And so, without further adeiu, here is Sir Ken Robinson (you can also watch it on the TED website and follow along with an interactive transcript):

Hopefully you found this talk as encouraging as I did. You can also read a transcript of Robinson’s entire talk. Additionally, earlier this year Robinson published a new book, “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,” which presents a deep look at human creativity and education.

I invite you to explore some of the videos on the TED website or to visit the organization’s “TEDTalks” YouTube channel. I don’t think 18 minutes of your day could be better spent!